I don’t have memories of my mum’s dad,
Just a vague recollection of his presence, in a house.
His black leather armchair next to the hearth.
I don’t remember his voice, telling me what he’d done.
I have no emotion over his death.
Mum turned up with his dog, so I knew that he’d gone.
I was a teenager when he died,
There had been time to get to know him.
Maybe he wasn’t good with children,
Maybe he was ill, although they never said.
He had served in war, there was mention of Gallipoli.
The one where the people in power failed us, and many were dead.
He never talked about the war,
But he could have talked about something else,
Football, hobbies, his favourite car.
His name was Pike.
Maybe he’d been told not tell anyone his name,
And taken the instruction too far.
There’s a photo of me, as a toddler on a stone lion.
He’s next to me, in a long coat and trilby hat.
No smile or glint in his eye.
No hint of pride or an emotional connect.
Is this typical of this generation?
Did his medals hide a mind that was wrecked?
He ran a couple of fish and chip shops,
Then got a good job in the gun factory.
A life of carrying or making weapons.
He used his local pub, they said. He ‘liked a pint’ but didn’t smoke.
I bet he sat in the corner, happy in his isolation?
Can’t imagine him at the bar, or anywhere sharing a joke.
It seems that Goose Fair, Nottingham’s travelling fair with 800 years of history may not take place this year. The Showmen’s Guild have reacted badly to the possibility that the fair will fenced off and and visitors required to prove their Covid19 status. They may even be required to pay a fee to enter the fairground.
The fair was cancelled in 2020 because of the pandemic, but with restrictions on events being lifted, everyone hoped that this important cultural event would return this year.
My novel The Showman would not have been written had it not been for my own memories of Goose Fair.
The Showmen’s Guild of Great Britain is the principal trade association for travelling showmen. The people it represents gain their livelihoods by presenting amusements at funfairs. They come from wide variety of historical backgrounds. There are some whose roots go back to the time of the strolling players and entertainers, but most are the descendants of those who were attracted into the fairground business during the period of great expansion that followed the introduction of steam-powered rides in the nineteenth century.
Here’s a short section from The Showman, where Michael is meeting someone from The Showmen’s Guild, hoping for answers about why he was taken away from his family as a child.
“But all is not lost Michael. There are a few options that I can suggest. But first, I want to show you some photographs which I think you will be interested in. At least they will confirm that the Mattoni family were travelling showmen back in the day.”
James looked around and saw that a larger and more private table had become available nearby.
“Let’s move to that table where we can talk better.”
No sooner had they moved then a man and a woman took their place at the small table and sat down. The man saw that a packet of Peter Stuyvesant cigarettes had been left and took them over to Michael, who thanked him. The man joked that they weren’t his brand anyway.
Michael liked his friendly nature and insisted that he tried one. The man accepted. Michael provided him with a light using his Zippo lighter.
When the man had returned, James Proctor then produced two photographs from the envelope. Both were black and white copies of originals. The quality was not great but the images were sufficient to appreciate them.
Michael was left to look and absorb their content.
The first showed three men stood in front of some kind of fairground machinery and a painted wooden structure. On the ornately carved wooden fascia were the words ‘Mattoni’s Cake Walk’. The men in the photograph, whilst looking at the camera, had little expression on their faces. Whenever the photograph was dated, it was from a time when photographs were rare and normally taken in a formal setting. The subjects looked inconvenienced and uneasy. The three men all had a similar swarthy complexion and features. One was clearly older and wearing a brimmed hat and the two younger ones were about the same age, and wearing floppy caps.
Michael wanted to ask questions but James suggested he takes his time and look at the second one. This was a photograph of a larger group of people, possibly an extended family. They were gathered in a field and there were wooden caravans behind them.
Michael scanned his eyes over the photograph and saw what looked like the same three men, this time with women of similar ages. There were children too, three in total, a girl of about seven and a girl of about six. This girl was holding a baby in her arms.
The most melodramatic and tragic event that I saw unfold was the ill-fated FA Cup Semi Final between Nottingham Forest and Liverpool
In this post I am going to be a theatre critic and if that means 50% of readers go elsewhere, then so be it.
This post links a couple of memorable theatrical performances that are so different, and yet have a similarity in the message that they continue to send out.
To be a theatre critic for the day, I need to explain what I consider to be theatre and why. I rarely visit a cinema or watch television. I need my entertainment with a personal connection. Both sport and musical events are also theatre, whether the venue is a stadium or an open space.
In fact the most melodramatic, epic and tragic event that I saw unfold was the ill-fated FA Cup Semi Final between Nottingham Forest and Liverpool in 1989.
To stand on a packed terrace and watch the events slowly develop over a 30 minute period was understandably memorable. Being there; seeing the whole stage-show, the complicated mix of choreography and sound. Audience participation even added to the surreal experience. A narrated documentary or news feature can never match the complete theatrical experience of ‘being there’.
We stood, as part of the audience, transfixed
You see in that 30 minute period, we stood, as part of the audience, transfixed.
The main stage was the pitch.
Initially an empty green space, then occupied by 22 actors, half in red and half in white. A choreographer in black. The opening scene was only a couple of minutes long but was exciting and frantic.
Then some kind of incident began to unfold backstage. The audience were confused, then irritable. The stage was cleared. Irritation became frustration, then anger.
The audience began singing songs to each other. The songs were derogatory but kept everyone occupied. The stage was now busy again. A cast of tens then hundreds, all animated and busy; this time all wore blue.
Blue denim, blue uniforms, and blue lights!
All became clear. Ironically, now that the stage was occupied by hundreds of people, the script was easier to follow. Lifeless people were carried on advertising boards and placed near to us.
Now many of you will know the story of Hillsborough. It is a dark day in English history. The only advantage I had of being in the audience at the ‘opening performance’, is one abiding memory. As we watched people attempting resuscitation (stage front), my attention was drawn to a man who appeared centre stage and ran towards us. He stopped at the edge of the penalty box. He was about 50 years of age and dressed in denim. He looked towards us, his audience. He spoke but no one heard his words. However, his hand gestures were clear and unmistakable. They said, ‘Come and join me on stage where I want to fight you’
I turned to my friends and said ‘Time to go’.
On Valentine Day 2014, my act of ‘spontaneity’ was to take Lisa to Nottingham Playhouse to see the penultimate performance of My Judy Garland Life. I had booked the tickets weeks before, so I was clearly not acting on impulse. However in my case, I knew that the timing of this trip (to England’s finest regional theatre), would be so well received by Lisa that I would be excused a few misjudgments later in the year!
I first knew of Lisa’s connection to Judy Garland in 2005. Despite Lisa being born the same year as Judy’s death, she must have built up affection for her from childhood.
I remember being in Edinburgh for the Edinburgh Fringe, sitting in the sunshine when a woman came passed smiling. Lisa acknowledged her as ‘Judy’, as though they were old school-friends. This oddly dressed woman was in fact Isabelle Georges, a French entertainer who was performing a show ‘Une Etoile et Moi’ in tribute to the life and music of Judy Garland. We saw the show a few days later.
So, the world premiere of My Judy Garland Life in my hometown on Valentines Day, ‘had to be done’ as they say.
Now in reality, I am not qualified to be a theatre critic. I’ll leave that to the people who were sat behind us. They seemed to have a view on the career potential of different cast members. They seemed too opinionated to just sit back and be entertained, and entertained we were!
We were treated to a seamless and varied visual feast. Information and facts were communicated to us by clever video clips and soundbites. The cast of 5 were superb individually but allowed the whole experience to focus on the exhillarating and manic individual that Judy Garland was. Her portrayal as the complete entertainer who connected with her audience came across very strong. As the show progressed, it seemed as though we were all under her spell. The scene where she befriends some London cabbies and opens up to them stands out. For all of her talent, that she was in reality a commodity, vulnerable, used and abused by people around her from childhood to Hollywood icon. The same people who should have helped her and protected her.
Two very different theatrical events, but the same legacy.
Judy Garland died prematurely and was let down by people in the US entertainment industry, who should have protected her from harm.
The Hillsborough victims died prematurely and were let down by people in the UK Football Industry, who should have protected them from harm.
As co-presenter of true-crime podcast The Six O’Clock Knock, Jacques has recently looked at the The Black Panther case from the 1970s. The Black Panther was a name given to an unidentified armed robber who had targeted sub post-offices in Britain. He had already killed on two occasions.
In 1975, the Black Panther changed his Modus Operandi. He kidnapped a teenage girl named Lesley Whittle and attempted to extort £50,000 from her family. Lesley was taken from her home and kept hostage in an underground drainage chamber in Bathpool Park, near to Kidsgrove in Staffordshire.
She spent three days underground before the ransom plan went awry. The Black Panther had planned it meticulously, but the vital instructions for the ransom drop were badly communicated. Lesley Whittle died at his hands and the police did not have a suspect. It was several months until his chance arrest in Rainworth Nottinghamshire.
Only then did the police have a name for him.
Jacques reflects on the widespread criticism of the police handling of Lesley’s kidnap and the subsequent investigation into her murder.
Now, as a former detective, I can say it was not a proud moment for the police service. Not only was there a lack of coordination to catch the Panther before he turned to kidnapping. It was the tragedy of Lesley Whittle’s death that exposed the police blunders in the worst way possible.
The question has always remained. Could she have been found alive?
Chief Superintendent Booth had been reluctant to hand over the reins to John Morrison of Scotland Yard. He was forced to eventually, for some reason though, all the Panther’s earlier crimes were not brought under one central command. Was this another case of egos getting in the way of proper management decisions? I don’t know, but whatever rivalries there were, there was one simple objective in the days of Lesley Whittle’s disappearance. That was quite simply to Find Lesley Whittle Alive.
Now in my career, I was fortunate to benefit from the lessons learnt from the mistakes of, what now seems like the ‘wild-west policing’ in the Britain up to the 1980s.
I have experience of kidnaps and hostage situations. They are stand-alone investigations, referred to as a Crime in Action. They all have the same objective. The safe resolution and rescue of the hostage. The criminal investigation, nailing the offender, comes second. It is a real time investigation, using every intelligence opportunity possible
A Crime in Action requires specially trained staff, and their work is done when the hostage is found. Regional police forces are now able to deal with these cases. The key to them is to set them up in a covert way, even within the police organisation.
We are now much much better at it, and I have to say for Simon’s credit, so are the journalists. The police put far more resources into Media and Communications now. The days of those conversations in pubs between the police, journalists and lawyers / are long gone.
You have to have some sympathy for Mr Booth. News of the kidnap had been leaked to a freelance journalist and this put Booth ‘on the back foot’ at a critical time. There were even rival press conferences about a linked crime in the West Midlands, and in Staffordshire about Lesley Whittle. It was disorganised to say the least. Nowadays kidnap cases come with a news blackout.
There was also the blame game over why Bathpool Park wasn’t searched, after the failed ransom drop. Mr Booth had ‘assumed’ that the Met Police had searched it. A critical error, particularly when all communication from The Panther stopped at that point. A search could have been made in a reasonably covert way, even in those days. A search of the drainage shaft could have been done without drawing too much attention.
I don’t want to sound critical though. You have to look at the fact that Neilson was a rare type of villain. Extremely dangerous and calculating. Let’s face it, if he aborted the whole operation at Bathpool Park with Lesley being alive, he could have made one phone call to alert the police to where she was. He didn’t, either because he knew she was dead, or didn’t care what happened to her.
My career was made easier by the organisational changes that came from others mistakes. I get the fact that there used to be strong rivalry between departments, not only police forces. It still doesn’t justify the squabble between West Mercia and Staffordshire who took the overall lead in investigating Lesley Whittle’s murder.
There’s an article published in the Police Review magazine from 1984. It reports on the final public humiliation for the police, at Neilson’s trial.
Neilson’s defence to murder was that Lesley must have fallen to her death. The prosecution used the accounts of Staffordshire and Metropolitan police officers, to explain how she was found (weeks after the kidnap) and the interpretation of the scene. Chief Supt Booth who had been the Senior Officer, was expecting to be called to give his evidence. Having waited outside the court for days, in the end he was not called. This is not unusual for a witness not to be called to give their evidence. The prosecuting barristers try to not over complicate how the evidence is put to a jury. They have to find a balance between calling live witnesses, and other evidence from exhibits and documents.
The defence team did call Chief Superintendent Booth though, and it turned out not to be his finest hour. Instead of sticking to his evidence and the facts, he openly criticised other officers. The Judge would later tell the jury that Booth’s opinions were completely irrelevant.’
Do you know, the thing that I find most chilling is that Neilson was behaving like a terrorist. He dressed like a paramilitary, and he behaved with military discipline. And yet the police service as a whole, were unable to stop him. If he’d been a member of the IRA, acting alone, just imagine what havoc he could have caused?
Donald Neilson died in prison in 2011.
Episode 14 of The Six O’Clock Knock titled Donald Neilson ‘The Black Panther’ is published on Spreaker but can be found on all the main podcast platforms.
The Nottinghamshire Mining Museum has recently asked for memories of riding the paddy train or the belt. I had this short memory as a 15 year old, on a visit to Calverton Colliery in 1978.
My father worked at Calverton Colliery from about 1958 to 1984. In 1978, my school arranged a French Exchange with a school from Rousillon (near Lyon) in France. A 15 year old lad named Christophe stayed with us for two weeks. My father arranged for Christophe and I to visit the pit and go underground. The three things I remember most was the rush of air when we were underground, the heat of the cramped space at the coal-face, and the conveyor belt. I remember our ‘guide’ explaining the ‘options’ of getting to the face. In reality there was only one option, the dangerous one, on the conveyor belt. The phrase he used was to the point. “Keep your hands in or you’ll lose ’em” I can’t remember how I translated that to Christophe, but I think we both understood the miner’s words and gestures. An unforgettable experience. I can still remember it vividly, so I presume Christophe will too, wherever life has taken him.
The Nottinghamshire Mining Museum
The Nottinghamshire Mining Museum is a people’s museum remembering and celebrating the working, social, leisure and family lives of Nottinghamshire Coal-miners. It shares the experiences and struggles of the people of the Nottinghamshire coalfields
On 21st August 2020, Nottingham City Council and the Showmen’s Guild announced the cancellation of the 729th Goose Fair. This decision was inevitable I suppose
The incredible photograph above is by Nottingham photographer, Lamar Francois. It shows the fun and the joy of the Goose Fair, an abstract take of the Big Wheel and Tower Slide attractions.
Lamar is offering for sale a limited number of the image, and each on sold will include a donation of £1 from each print sold will be donated to Autism East Midlands. See Lamar’s website for details
Porchester Press is making a similar pledge. For every sale of the paperback version of The Showman, a donation of £2 will be made to Autism East Midlands. This offer will run until 31st December 2020.
Nottingham City Council gave this statement about the decision
Despite current Government regulations allowing fairground rides and attractions to open, the challenge for the council’s Events team and the Showmen’s Guild has been how to manage the 420,000 visitors who attend the five-day event, while maintaining social distancing and ensuring that other Covid-safe measures are in place. Several options were considered, including creating a number of timed sessions to limit capacity to 25,000 people, or extending the length of the fair to ten days. However, neither of these options came close to providing capacity for the more than 400,000 visitors who would normally attend. The other consideration was one of atmosphere. With reduced numbers, social distancing measures in place and lowered music levels, it was felt that if the event had been staged, much of the traditional atmosphere would have been lost.
Here’s a section from ‘The Showman’ where Michael attends the Goose Fair in 1978
Now within sight of the fairground, Michael could appreciate the location better in daylight. The fair actually covered about a third of a large public park, flanked by a wooded hillside. The sun was out and although low in the sky behind him, it was warm enough to create a mist-like vapour to rise from the dew on the grassed areas away from the trees. He could see activity in and around the fair but he was one of only a few pedestrians.
At the first opportunity he asked a stall holder where he could find Bob Collins’ Waltzer. He was given vague directions which did not really help, but he soon found it. As he approached, some men were removing a tarpaulin cover from the side of the ride.
“Is Mr Collins around?”
“You after lost property?”
“No, I’ve been told that he may be able to help me about the history of the fair.”
“He’s over at the Big Wheel. He’ll have a black woolly hat on.”
Michael made his way to the Big Wheel that was right in the centre of the fair. A man in a black woolly hat was talking to some other men near to the control booth. He was about sixty years old and wearing a black workman’s jacket that had an orange patch across the shoulders on the back. Music was playing and the lights were flashing but the wheel itself was still.
“Mr Collins?” said Michael
“Who wants him?”
“I’m told you may be able to help me find out about my family who worked on the fairs.”
“No, English but with an Italian name. Mattoni?”
Mr Collins had a wise and weathered face that suggested he was astute. Despite this, his looked to the ground and paused. The name had clearly meant something to him.
“Who are you to them?”
“I’m Michael, born to the family in 1948 but taken to America as a baby after my mother died.”
Mr Collins looked thoughtful and nodded his head very slightly after he listened to what Michael was saying. He reached inside the control booth and turned the music off then whistled to attract the attention one of the men nearby. The man came over.
“Start her up Joe! I’m going to take a ride with this gentleman. Check each car in turn for safety.”
Mr Collins then turned to Michael.
“We open in about half an hour. Jump in and I’ll see what you know. I don’t know much to be honest.”
They got into a car on the Big Wheel, an open bench that behaved like a rocking chair. A metal bar was closed and locked into place across their thighs. The wheel started its rotation, moving forward then up and round, stopping as each of the sixteen cars reached the gangway. Michael felt like he was on the second hand of a giant clock, time ticking away with each stop. He felt as though he had sixty hypothetical ‘seconds’ to get whatever information Bob Collins had for him. Once the wheel had turned its full circle, his time would be up. Michael told him all that he knew. He blurted it out in almost one breath. Whilst Michael knew very little, it was his account of Rosie going to the United States, raising a family before dying of cancer that seemed to resonate with Bob Collins. When he replied he also seemed to take a deep breath.
“Well we did not know the Mattoni’s well. I can remember the Mattoni boys and their father. The boys were similar age to me. As you have rightly said, they only produced girls. They had no sons to continue their name or the business. After the death of your mother, they must have had enough. They did not disappear, they sold up and went to Italy. Not really heard any more about them.
“How did my mother die?”
“Well you’ll have to ask the coroner about that. As we understood it she fell onto a railing.”
“On this fair ground? At the Goose Fair?”
The one word answer of Bob Collins was the most important and informative word that he had ever heard to date. It made his heart miss a beat.
Jacques Morrell has teamed up with a former journalist Simon Ford to create a new true-crime podcast that takes a fresh look at murder.
The first episode was released earlier this year having been recorded on location in Warwicksire (before the COVID lockdown).
Here’s an introduction:
On Valentine’s Day in 1945 a brutal murder took place which remains unsolved, seventy five years on. This murder was not some gangland killing where people are afraid to speak out. It was not a domestic crime of passion where the suspect got off on some legal technicality. It was not a tragic death where the actual cause is in doubt, or open to interpretation.
It is savage and brutal murder with no apparent motive. Not only that, it occurred in a sleepy village in the heart of England. If that is not enough to get you interested, then let’s throw in some local folklore and superstition, with stories of witchcraft and phantom black dogs roaming the area at night.
Let’s find out more about the location.
Lower Quinton is a small and unassuming Warwickshire village, just six miles from Stratford-upon-Avon. It is also the final resting place of the immortal Bard William Shakespeare, who was buried here in 1616.
There is a mix of the old and the new in Lower Quinton. Tudor period thatched cottages sit side-by-side with modern 1970s houses. English villages like this are not complete without at least one ancient pub or a mediaeval church. Lower Quinton has both, The College Arms and St Swithins.
St Swithins Church dates back to 1100.
It includes the tomb of Sir Henry Knight, who fought with distinction at the Battle of Agincourt.
The village consists of little more than a few streets surrounded by countryside. A place to escape from the rest of the world and find peace of mind and tranquility surely?
The thing is, Lower Quinton has a few dark secrets, and not just what happened on Valentine’s Day 1945. Secrets and superstitions that go back beyond the founding of St. Swithins nine hundred years ago. Events that go back before Lower Quinton was named and even before Julius Caesars armies marched upon these fields and claimed this land as a back-water of the Roman Empire.
If you visit Lower Quinton, you will notice the imposing plateau of Meon Hill.
Meon Hill is 194m above sea level and is visible above the farms and villages in the area. It has an odd look about it that makes it stand out. It has an almost flat top. Imagine a mound of clay with the top sliced off.
Meon Hill has existed here pretty much unchanged since the last glaciers rolled ponderously across the landscape, at the end of the last ice age.
The ancient Britons made their home here. The Druids would have performed rituals on the slopes of Meon Hill. With the arrival of Christianity, there is a local legend that reminds the locals of good and evil. It is said that the Devil tried to destroy the abbey at Evesham by hurling a huge mound of earth at it. The Bishop of Worcester saw the flying mountain and prayed for salvation. His prayers were answered and the missile came down next to Lower Quinton, to form Meon Hill.
Let’s bring ourselves more up to date, to Valentine’s Day 1945 and the events that took place at Firs Farm on the slopes of Meon Hill.
The Second World War had been raging for over 5 years. The war has taken its toll on the country, even in quiet farming communities like Lower Quinton. The farms were providing essential food for the people but farm workers were in short supply. Most young men were serving in the armed forces. Women were taking on roles usually done by the men. There was rationing, and people were struggling. There was also a nearby Prisoner of War camp.
Edith Walton lived with her 74 year old uncle named Charles Walton.
Charles was an agricultural worker and had lived in Lower Quinton all his life.
He had lived at 15 Lower Quinton since World War I.
On the day of the murder, Edith Walton had been working and returned home at 6pm. Concerned that her uncle was not at home, she went to see her neighbour, and together they made their way to Firs Farm to alert the manager Alfred Potter.
Potter had seen Charles earlier in the day, slashing hedges in a part of the farm named Hillground. The three of them set out in the semi-darkness, to check the location where Charles had been working.
When they reached Hillground, Edith was completely unprepared for what she discovered. She was immediately overcome with grief and shock, and began to scream loudly. Harry Beasley tried to pacify her and bring her away from the appalling scene before them.
Charles Walton’s body was lying near to a hedgerow. He was clearly dead. Like all corpses, it take the finder a few seconds for the finder to recognise it as a corpse. Even bodies that have no obvious injuries can appear strangely unreal. The position of their lifeless limbs can often make them not look human. The position of Charles Walton’s body was certainly odd. The injuries told those present that this was a murder, and a savage one.
Charles had been beaten repeatedly over the head with his own walking stick. He had also received horrific injuries from the tools and implements he needed for his work. His neck was cut open with the slash hook. He was also pinned to the ground. The prongs of his pitchfork had been driven either side of his neck and into the earth. The handle of the pitchfork had then been wedged under a cross member of the hedge and the slash hook had been buried in his neck. Charles Walton was not meant to survive this attack. His killer (or killers) had made sure of that.
A Murder Investigation was launched, and the Chief Constable sent the following message to Scotland Yard:
I would like Scotland Yard to assist in a brutal case of murder that took place yesterday.
The deceased is a man named Charles WALTON, age 75, and he was killed with an instrument known as a slash hook. The murder was either committed by a madman or one of the Italian prisoners who are in a camp nearby. The assistance of an Italian interpreter would be necessary, I think.
Dr Webster states deceased was killed between 1 and 2 pm yesterday. A metal watch is missing from the body. It is being circulated.
Find out more about the case by listening to the Six O’Clock Knock, a brand-new true-crime podcast, taking a fresh look at murder.
More recording in the grounds of St Swithins Church
As a child, Aileen Wuornos was subjected to repeated sexual, physical, and mental abuse. This was at the hands of her grandfather who raised her as his own, after her birth mother rejected her.
As an adult, Aileen Wuornos became a sex worker, and she made a living from it, moving to Florida when she was in her 30s. The effect of this lifestyle may have begun to to take its toll on her.
Between 1989 and 1990 she shot dead seven men who had picked her up as a hitchhiker. She would then end up drinking alcohol with them. After killing them, she would take their vehicle and steal cash and other valuables.
There is a theory that she killed these particular men because they either expected sex in return for the lift, or they attempted to rape her. She shot them because they were taking liberties, just like her grandfather had during her childhood.
She was executed for her crimes by lethal injection on October 9, 2002.
Here is what Patrick Tobin wrote about the Aileen Wuornos story.
I've always enjoyed playing about with words, like writing lyrics or short stories at school. The first one I really finished was titled The Ballad of Aileen Wuornos.
I learnt about Aileen Wuornos in 2002 after watching a documentary about her impending execution. I stayed up for nights just thinking about the circumstances of her life. I saw in her a story of an injustice which exploded down the barrel of a gun. She shot seven men dead whilst working as a prostitute on the highways of America.
I connected with her. The way she was mistreated as a child, how she found herself on the outside of society at such a young age. I can't condone what she did, but I can understand why she did it.
What worries me is she only came to prominence through her crimes. Before she murdered those men she was just another hooker on the highway looking for a trick to buy her next fix. A cliché, but true. Her mental health issues were never really recognized until it was too late and she was out of control. She wasn't born to kill these men. It was the circumstances of her childhood which developed her rage. Her childhood consumed her as a young woman into adulthood, and would lead her to murder.
The injustice lies in the way she was treated by a system that should have recognised her vulnerability as an abused child, rather than exploiting her notoriety as a convicted murderer. America's first so called female serial killer. The consequences of Aileen Wuornos’ life may be the death of those men and her execution, but what happened prior to her killing spree went a long way to outline the reasons for her actions.
The ballad I wrote was directed by the need to express the injustice I saw in her life. The criminal case against her became a media circus. It was also a way for me to express myself through her story.
Read more of Patrick Tobin’s thoughts in his memoirs about a life with schizophrenia.
Homesake is available on Amazon Kindle via this link
His mother died on 8th May 1898 when he only two years old.
His father Peter Dawson couldn’t look after him and he was sent to a relative in Manchester.
Peter Dawson’s parents were John Dawson (a silk mill manager) and Sarah Morrell, who came from a family of market gardeners in Cheshire. The Morrells had links to the Trafford family.
Ernest and his siblings were sent to Pendleton in Salford, to their Auntie Sarah and Uncle George. They did not have a happy childhood, despite the fact that Uncle George was an interesting character. He used to be in the Music Halls as a contortionist. He was tattooed all over and as bald as a coot. He used to do a contortionist act dressed as Mephistopheles.
Ernest was so unhappy in his childhood, that he got away from Manchester at the first opportunity. His father (in the mean-time) had found work in Nottingham on the big railway project that was under way. He was living in the Meadows area of Nottingham, where Ernest joined him. This would have been just before the outbreak of WWI.
Here are what exists of his army service, taken from photographs, documents and diaries.
The war gave Ernest the opportunity to get away from the circumstances he found himself.
He enlisted in the army, something which he had no regrets in doing.
He joined the Royal Horse Artillery and Royal Field Artillery in 1915.
He was 19 years old.
Ernest’s army service is preserved in various photographs, documents and diaries.
Here is his Soldiers Diary of 1918. These contained all kinds of vital information for the soldier. Things such as the kind of information required when making reports, and the types of weapons in use by the ‘fighting powers’. For instance, the Lee Enfield .303 (used by the British) had a longer range than the others. It also helped the soldier understand the words and terms he would hear people say. Terms like ‘Chucking a Dummy’ meaning fainting on parade, or ‘on the tack’, to describe someone who was teetotal.
After his initial training, Ernest landed in Egypt in 1915, where he spent a period in a place called Sollum
In addition to riding a camel, Ernest had also learnt to ride horses.
He was clearly enjoying his military adventure and was proud of his achievements.
The photograph below has the following written on it: Ernest on lead horse of the best team in Egypt!
It is not clear what military engagements he was involved with in Egypt from 1915 to 1918.
The Royal Field Artillery (Territorial Force) was a field artillery brigade formed from three Territorial Force Royal Horse Artillery batteries in January 1916. It was assigned to the 52nd (Lowland) Division to replace I Lowland Brigade, RFA (T.F.) and joined the division in Egypt. The brigade was reformed as horse artillery in July 1917, seeing active service in in the Sinai and Palestine Campaign in 1917 and 1918. It remained in Palestine on occupation duties after the end of the war and was finally disbanded in November 1919.
However his diary of 1918 indicates they had moved into Palestine.
Here are some of his photographs that remind us of the reality of Ernest’s war.
“Two hours after this photo we were shelled by the enemy.”
“Carrying a wounded Sergeant out of action.”
“After the battle. A dead German”
The realities of war meant that the likelihood of injury or death was high.
Soldiers Diary of 7th June 1918
14th July 1918
17th July 1918
Ernest’s injuries, from shellfire, were to his left arm and thigh.
It would appear that, after recovering from his wounds, he remained in Palestine and Egypt. Despite his discharge certificate being issued at Woolwich on 26th Jan 1919, he re-enlisted at Kantara in Egypt, the following day.
The Character Certificate issued Gunner Ernest Dawson stated that he had served 2 years and 255 Days, and described him as
Very good. Honest, sober and hard working.
Ernest had enjoyed the army, and with the uncertainty of what life would be like back in England, he chose re-enlist, whilst at Kantara, Egypt on 27th January 1919.
Kantara was the site of Headquarters of the Eastern Force during the defence of the Suez Canal Campaign and the Sinai Campaign of 1916. It was a massive distribution warehouse and hospital centre that supported and supplied all British, Australian and New Zealand operations in the Sinai from 1916 until final demobilization in 1919.
Ernest was then allowed home on leave and returned to Nottingham.
His father encouraged him to marry a young woman named Eva Miles. Eva had moved to Nottingham for work and was friends with a family that his father knew well. Eva had been helping to care for injured soldiers in Nottingham. He agreed to marry her.
Ernest married Eva on 15th November 1919 at the Mayfield Grove Chapel in Nottingham.
He was then posted to India at a place called Cannanore.
His wife was now with him.
He would soon be serving in the Mesopotamia Campaign, where he was promoted to Bombardier Sgt with the 505 Battery of the Royal Field Artillery.
The British built a large military cantonment to the east of the city of Poona where the Southern Command of the Indian Army was established in 1895..
Ernest did not keep a diary at this point, or if he did, it is lost. There are photographs, though of his time in ‘Mespot’.
His new wife Eva did keep a diary for a few weeks in 1921. It helps to explain her circumstances in India, where she was an army wife.
1st Jan 1921 – Letter from Ernest from Deolali
Deolali Transit Camp was a transit camp for British troops in Deolali India. Notorious for its unpleasant environment, boredom, and the psychological problems of soldiers that passed through it. Its name is the origin of the phrase ‘gone doolally’ or doolally tap’, a phrase meaning to lose one’s mind.
3rd Jan – Ernest embarked at Bombay for Mespot.
4th Jan – Fancy Dress Dance. Enjoyable evening. Some fun over the dress beforehand.
12th Jan – Details arrived in Basra in Mespot.
19th Jan – Walk on beach with Mrs Littlewood Mrs Bennet and Scottie.
20th Jan – Went on the beach with the Cannanite Rangers. Swim in morning.
21st Jan – Whist Drive and Dance at night. Swim in Morning.
23rd Jan – Frightened with rat under the mosquito net. Fed up with Cannanore.
Cannanore is a city now known as Kannur in the southern Indian state of Kerala. It is over 1000km south of Bombay (Mumbai). During British rule in India, it was a part of the Malabar District (Madras Presidency).
The military base in Cannanore was at St Angelos Fort. On 15 February 1663, the Dutch captured the fort from the Portuguese. They modernised the fort and built the bastions Hollandia, Zeelandia and Frieslandia that are the major features of the present structure. The original Portuguese fort was pulled down later. A painting of this fort and the fishing ferry behind it can be seen in the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam. The Dutch sold the fort to King Ali Raja of Arakkal in 1772. In 1790 the British seized it and used it as their chief military station in Malabar until 1947.
Eva’s diary continues to give us a brief insight into her life as an army wife in India. They have been in India for a year and she is clearly looking forward to returning home to ‘Blighty.’
27th Jan – Visited Mrs Cheetham in Hospital. 3 new born babies in 17th Brigade.
28th Jan – (a year since Ernest left home) Scottie left the camp. Whist Drive and Dance. Some of women going home but not me.
29th Jan – No news of home. All excited waiting for news. Walk in Bazar
31st Jan – Went to Dursee for new dress and skirt. In recreation room at night.
1st Feb – Whist drive and dance. Presentation to Mrs Christie on leaving the camp.
2nd Feb – Ethels 21st Birthday. Sorry I have not been able to be with her.
4th Feb – No pay today and no news from Poona. Whist Drive and Dance.
6th Feb – Walk in big Bazar. Saw terrible sights among natives. Smallpox etc.
7th Feb – First letter from Ernest in Mespot also name in for Blighty. 3 women in Battery for home.
9th Feb – Signed Documents for home. More names in for 17th Bde. Bobyjee sorry I am going home.
14th Feb – In Recreation room singing and telling fortunes. Flannel issued for home.
15th Feb – Farewell whist drive and dance. Presentation to Mrs Willis and Mrs Madden.
17th Feb – Sports for Kiddies. Confined to camp trouble with the natives.
18th Feb – Steel Cabin Trunks issued. Letter from Mespot. Whist Drive and dance. News of Ernest’s promotion.
20th Feb – Played whist in Rec. Finished packing for home. No mail.
21st Feb – Months pay for Blighty. Leaving Camp 10pm tonight. Farewell dinner.
22nd Feb – In train bound for Bombay.
25th Feb – Reached Bombay 8 o’clock am. Embarked Zeppelin for home
26th Feb – Ship cannot sail. Wire round propeller.
28th Feb – Saw Duke of Connaught leave Bombay on Malaya – Sailed for home.
The Duke of Connaught, was the seventh child of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. He was educated by private tutors before entering the Royal Military Academy, where he was commissioned as a lieutenant in the British Army. He served for some 40 years, seeing service in various parts of the British Empire. In 1921, he travelled to India, where he officially opened the new Central Legislative Assembly, Council of State, and Chamber of Princes. Though he retired from public life in 1928, he continued to make his presence known in the army well into the Second World War, before his death in 1942. He was Queen Victoria’s last surviving son.
Eva returns home to England, but has to wait some time for her husband to join her.
Ernest, meanwhile is still on active service in Mesopotamia.
Despite the war being over, the area now needed managing, and administration putting in place. This area would go on to becoming the Iran.
With British Indian forces already on the ground, the British imported civil servants from India who had previous knowledge and experience on how the government of a colony is supposed to run. The expulsion of Ottomans from the region shook the centuries-old power balance. Arabs who believed that the expulsion of the Ottomans would lead to greater independence and fought against the Ottoman forces along the Allies faced another dilemma. They were disappointed with the arguments regarding the establishment of British Mandate of Mesopotamia.
When Ernest finally returned from Mesopotamia, he brought with him an album on images.
Finally, on June 13th 1922, Bombardier Sergeant Ernest Dawson of the 505 Battery Royal Field Artillery was discharged.
His military career was completed.
In his Character Certificate, issued at Fort Wallington in Fareham Hampshire, he was described as
Is sober. Has been instructor of signalling in the unit. Knows his work well. Is very keen and has worked hard. Can ride and look after horses.
Along with his memories and scars from his time in the army, he also returned with these photographs of two other soldiers. It is presumed that they were close friends who served with him. It is not known what happened to them, or whether Ernest kept in touch with them.
After his final discharge from the army, Ernest and Eva settled in Nottingham and raised three children, son’s Kenneth and Dennis, and daughter Betty. All went on to have families of their own.
Ernest found work as a manager at a number of public baths in the city.
Eva died on 31st Oct 1957 at Nottingham’s General Hospital, she was 60 years old.
Ernest died on 21st June 1986 at Nottingham City Hospital. He was 90 years old.
Since the launch of his debut novel in 2017, we though it was time to find out what Jacques Morrell has been up to since.
Having described himself as a ‘Jacques of all trades and master of none’, who knows what he might have got himself into?
A quick check of his social media accounts, he seems to have added a podcast to his repertoire, although this seems to have started in February this year (2020).
We asked Jacques to reflect on his status as ‘a published author’ and where his writing has taken him since The Showman was published.
Apart from the countless requests from the media for interviews, and the daily fan mail through the door, it’s been fairly steady.
Joking aside, what it has done is to allow me to meet other writers on an equal footing. Writing is about learning to create pieces of work. It is about finding a style of writing that suits you.
The Showman came naturally and organically. It was always going to be a suspense thriller with an atmosphere of the paranormal. I think most people expected it to be a crime thriller. Some people have in fact encouraged me to write for that genre. These people are academics and professional in the business. They see the advantage that I have with my policing experience.
So have you taken that on board?
Not yet. I have also attended a few workshops for writers and literary people. I learnt a few things from them. In particular, I learnt to play around with ideas and words. I was encouraged to try writing in different styles, poetry, short stories, vignettes, comedy, script-writing etc. This taught me to be open minded about my writing. It helps to focus on how I write. To make the best use of it and to make it more meaningful.
I went to a talk by Henry Normal about comedy script writing. Henry is a comedian who went on to write and produce some of the finest English comedy shows of the last 30 years. He gave us advice on script ideas for sit-coms. He advised on what the production companies will look for, such as the ideal number of characters, the setting, the target audience, even the cost of producing it. I had already been playing around with an idea for a comedy, centred around a group of retired police officers.
I went away and worked on it. I got talking to someone in the pub who was also writing a comedy script. We shared ideas. It is almost ready as a script, but there is one character who hasn’t quite found her identity yet. There is something missing and I am not ready to release it yet. It could equally be a short story too.
So apart from those ‘media interviews’, have you been telling your story to people?
Yes, I suppose so. I have spoken to reading groups and book groups about my career and my writing. I was also interviewed by Giorgia, one of the young ambassadors at the Nottingham City of Literature. The interview is online here
I have learnt that The Showman seems to be well received by the younger generation of reader. Initially I though it was the context of it being set in 1978, but I also think it may be down to the style it was written. This review probably explains it better.
The words this person has used makes me feel proud that they have understood the innocence of the characters in The Showman. That is exactly how I see them, a wholesome and naive family caught up in a very difficult situation.
What else have you been working on?
I have made a good start on my memoirs. The story of my police career, starting with ‘First Shift’..
I don’t want you to confuse my first shift with ‘First Shift’, which is the morning shift. When I first wore the uniform, this was from 6 am to 2 pm. It was the first shift of the policing day, followed by days, afternoons, evenings and nights. I suppose the night shift could have been called ‘Last Shift’, but working through the night was dangerous enough, without the added connotation of it being your last shift. My very first shift was an afternoon shift. 'Afters' is always a busy time for the police. I have no idea what day of the week it fell on. Days of the week are immaterial to police officers. The police rota covers seven days in a week, and apart from some quieter periods, it is the ‘same shit’ that goes off. Burglars don’t look at the calendar and say to their partners,‘Blimey it’s Friday already. We’re at the theatre tonight with Oliver and Abigail. I think I’ll screw a couple of houses this morning and knock off at lunch-time. Drug dealers don’t send a text to their customers saying, ‘Have a great weekend everyone and stay safe. Back Monday from 9 am’. People in crisis do not limit their psychotic episodes or cries for help to office hours.
So when will the memoirs be published?
I have paused it for the moment due to the podcast taking up quite a lot of time?
It’s going well. There are three of us involved, me and a couple of guys who used to work together at the BBC a few years ago. One is the producer and the other the presenter. They are both very bright and professional. I suppose I bring the authentic voice of a copper. We take a fresh look at cases.
I think we are all enjoying it for what it is, a serious bit of fun. Looking at old cases helps me keep my detective brain ticking over.
That sounds good fun. So what else is new?
There is a new apartment block where my first police station used to stand. I took a few photos before it was developed.
Oh, and I forgot to mention, those media interviews did happen